Softball: Pitt needs wins against Orange

Softball: Pitt needs wins against Orange

In this final stretch of the regular season, every series and individual game gains importance for any team as time runs out. But for Pitt softball, which has moved in and out of possession of the ACC’s final berth in its postseason tournament with regularity of late, the emphasis feels especially great.

The Panthers will face former fellow Big East member Syracuse in a three-game series, beginning with a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon and the finale on Sunday.

As a team, Pitt has struggled to build and then sustain momentum throughout the season. The Panthers haven’t strung together more than three wins at a time, and that has only occurred twice. They also slumped a month ago when they lost seven straight games, their longest losing streak this year.

So after producing little offense at Virginia Tech in the middle of the week to drop a doubleheader and move down a spot in the standings, the Panthers will hope their up-and-down form continues with an upswing by rebounding at home to snap their two-game skid this weekend.  

As the sixth-place team, Syracuse (15-18, 6-7 ACC) would make the eight-team conference tournament if the season ended today, while after its two recent defeats, Pitt (13-19, 4-9 ACC) sits right on the outskirts of qualification in ninth place.

The Orange enter Pittsburgh with a two-game winning streak. In its doubleheader against SUNY-Binghamton on Wednesday, Syracuse outscored the Bearcats 17-6, including an 8-0 shutout. 

A marked difference in the squads’ offensive output figures to have a big effect on the outcome of the matchup.    

Pitt has struggled to score in past weeks, as it ranks second to last with 108 runs in 32 games, 3.38 per contest.   

Syracuse sits a spot above in the statistical category, but has 52 more tallies after having played just one additional game. The Orange have also amassed 111 more total bases than the Panthers. 

Further proof that Pitt’s bats haven’t produced: The overall team batting average is a mere .240, the worst rate in the conference, with more than half of the roster hitting below that mark individually.

A bright spot for Pitt is junior outfielder Carly Thea. She is hitting a whopping .397 for the season, and that success has her in third place out of all ACC players in that statistical category. She also has an active nine-game hit streak.

Freshman outfielder/first baseman Kaitlin Manuel also has an active hitting streak of four games.

They will likely face freshman pitcher Sydney O’Hara (11-7), who has appeared to feel more at ease on the mound of late. Despite an ERA of 3.35, O’Hara tossed her team-leading sixth shutout on Wednesday. O’Hara has limited base runners by striking out more than 100 batters, including five in her last start. Opponents have averaged .223 against her.

Syracuse has relied on its younger players to secure wins at the plate. Its top hitter is freshman catcher Nicole Lundstrom. Lundstrom bats .375 and has seven multi-RBI games, as well as 12 multi-hit games (including Wednesday’s doubleheader) to lead the team.

Her teammates, freshman outfielder/catcher Alyssa Dewes and sophomore shortstop Corinne Ozanne, have also batted well. Dewes bats .353 while Ozanne has hit .343. For the season, Ozanne has the second-most hits and RBIs, behind Lundstrom.

First pitch is 1 p.m. on Saturday at Vartabedian Field in the Petersen Sports Complex.